- Your News
By ANDREA AGARDY
As the heat and drought drag on, local and state utility officials are constantly monitoring the increased demand for water and electricity. Although the impact of the oppressive heat and lack of rain is definitely being felt, TVA and local utility officials said the systems are handling the additional demand well.
Chuck Bach, general manager of river scheduling for the TVA, said the area is in a drought, with the lake level at the Normandy Dam roughly 9 feet below the desired level for this time of year. As of Tuesday morning, the lake elevation was 866.25 feet. The optimal summer pool level is 875 feet.
In the absence of rain, Bach said the TVA is doing all it can to be conservative with the water it has.
“We’re trying to release minimal flows down through the river system,” Bach said. “There’s no inflow, so it [the reservoir] is not refilling.”
The dam, as of Tuesday morning, was releasing 150 cubic feet of water per second, which Bach said is a small amount for the non-power-generating dam.
“We’re trying to keep it as low as we can to meet downstream requirements,” Bach said. “The outlook is not very good for rain and runoff, so the reservoir levels will continue to fall. We’re watching it 24/7 in Knoxville, but without rain, there’s not much we can do.”
The rain gauge stationed at the Normandy Dam has recorded a total of 3.95 inches of rain at the lake since the beginning of May. Currently, the public is not being asked to limit water usage.
Randal Braker, general manager of the Duck River Utility Commission (DRUC), said the utility has continued to see slightly higher demand for this time of year, but otherwise it’s business as usual.
Changes may be coming, however.
Braker said DRUC has a meeting scheduled for later this month to discuss the drought with a variety of state and federal agencies, including the TVA, U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“I don’t anticipate any [usage] restrictions until after that meeting,” Braker said. “There’s not really any reason to.”
What Braker is hoping to see come out of the meeting is a reduction in the amount of water being released from the Normandy Dam. He said during the 2007 drought, the flow over the dam was not reduced until October, by which time a lot of water was lost that could not be recouped. He added the lowest level the lake hit during the 2007 drought was 852 feet.
“I’m hoping they will decide to do it sooner rather than later this time,” he said. “It’s better to get a small trim in the flow so we can save water now. A small trim could save 1 billion gallons.”
Electric power demand up
Electric utilities have also experienced an increased in demand over the past week as temperatures hovered near or above the 100-degree mark.
Brian Coate, electric department manager for the Tullahoma Utilities Board (TUB) said the city’s power grid is weathering the heat wave well and no heat-related outages have been reported.
“We’re holding up great,” Coate said on Friday afternoon.
“We’re at 92 percent of our all-time peak of 73.5 megawatts right now,” he said, adding that usage on Friday peaked at 68 megawatts.
Coate said on Tuesday morning that the weekend’s temperatures didn’t cause any problems either.
“Our load is always down on the weekend because the commercial and industrial [users] aren’t operating,” he said. “So even though it was just as hot this weekend, we didn’t see any problems.”
Travis Brickey, TVA spokesman, said the heat wave has set several new records over the past few days, but the utility’s all-time load record of 33,500 megawatts, set in August 2007, still stands.
Brickey said last Thursday, June 28, was “an interesting day,” setting a new TVA “swing” record. The term swing refers to the difference in usage between peak and off-peak hours.
“That difference, in a 24-hour period, set a record of 15,316 megawatts,” Brickey said.
Another record was shattered the following day. The peak usage on June 29 was 31,097 megawatts, breaking the prior peak usage for June, a mark which was set back in 2006.
Saturday was another record-breaker, with demand peaking at 30,771 megawatts, setting a new mark for Saturday and weekend usage.
Brickey said the demand for power is traditionally lower on weekends, when many industries are not operating. However, because it has been so hot recently, TVA saw a significant load increase due to constantly-running air conditioning units.
With the heat expected to continue for several more days, Brickey said the TVA is confident it will be able to handle the increased demand for electricity, thanks to its “very stable and secure transmission and generating systems.” He pointed to the utility’s “mixed portfolio of generating sources,” including hydroelectric, nuclear, natural gas and coal-powered plants.
“We’re the largest public utility in the country, so we have enough resources to supply the demand we’ve seen in the last week,” Brickey said.
The TVA has “load forecasters” on staff, Brickey said, meteorologists who are charged with monitoring weather forecasts and anticipating the amount of power the utility will need to supply its customers.
Brickey said most people don’t give too much thought into what has to happen to ensure they have electricity when they need it. He said the TVA works hard to make sure the system is operating as it should be.
“So many people’s work goes into allowing you to turn a switch on,” he said.
Andrea Agardy can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.